Sunday, 28 October 2012

Future of publishing

Another day, another 'the dire future of publishing' report in the media. I suspect it's connected with the 'buy an e-reader or a tablet' debate that's starting just in time for shopping for Christmas. Well, that and the Penguin/Random House story. The BBCs latest even had 'Once upon a time there were books' as a beginning of a radio report, though I can't find a link to it just at this moment. Bonus points to these if they tell the story about the birth of Penguin paperbacks again or hark back to the days of the net book agreement and this is something I can only vaguely remember.

Business models in publishing are changing, but it's harder to tell exactly how this affects authors, readers, publishers and the number of titles offered. It's not as though any high street bookshop has empty space on the shelves. I'd need to be able to read contracts with authors (new and established) to see exactly how the print and digital book are visualised in the next few years in terms of developing lists. Will a publisher want to develop a print list in parallel with a digital list or concentrate on one form over another? More significantly, how are publishers and imprints to develop? Yes, Penguin and Random House are discussing a merger, but when hasn't a UK-based publisher (or should that be 'publisher with a UK presence'?) been the subject of takeover rumours, if not formal negotiations. At the other end of the scale, it's never been easier to put a book together and tiny, niche market publishers, like me, are able to thrive.

Online shopping is now so normal that it's surprising if a company doesn't offer it. Foyles and Waterstone's also offer websites that are a pleasure to use. It's certainly true that Amazon flourishes while many other bookshops have failed, but secondhand bookshops (online or not) do have some success. Others will say that Oxfam have taken over the sector and forced many dealers out, though I see a few towns with secondhand bookshops and Oxfam secondhand bookshops. The dealers I've spoken to say that Oxfam's arrival has forced them to specialise and ended some of their lower price sales, but are pleased that customers tend to browse and buy in both locations.

I suppose I'm most concerned about the future of the printed book. Some genres (romance is doing particularly well) lend themselves to e-readers. Plenty of friends swear by their magazine subscriptions and virtual bookshelves read on their tablets. I prefer to be able to turn the pages myself, though Project Gutenberg is a fantastic tool for trying out books you may go on and buy. If a distinction between e-book and print books continues in terms of price and format, it may also mean that the print book is seen as more of a work of art than a more simple story or that means that book design and quality will improve, then I can only support it. There's only so many times that I'm willing to buy a paperback that looks as if it's been thrown together. You all know the type - spelling mistakes because they've relied on OCR capture, tiny margins, soft paper and a less-than-attractive cover.

For the future, mergers between publishers seem likely. Will lists contract? Possibly. I'd need to do some more research across the genres as much of the debate seems applicable to fiction, though educational publishing and larger-sized books seem to have a secure future as 'presents' and 'reference'.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Title 4: Candy Nevill

I've reached Title 4. I have to say that I never quite expected to reach this point - this is realism, not modesty. In order for a business to continue, you have to make a profit on each title, so to be able to reach four titles since 2010 is a dream come true for me.

In addition to her school and family stories, Clare Mallory also wrote Candy Nevill, though this was unpublished in her lifetime. I'm able to publish it now thanks to the help and support of Clare Mallory's family and the Alexander Turnbull Library. There are twelve generous chapters stuffed with the pleasures of being with friends, reading, baking cakes and cooking sweets. 

Some people have a gift for cooking and Candy Nevill is lucky enough to be one of those people. Unfortunately, she’s also the slowest and youngest member of a family of academic high-flyers who don’t always value light scones or delicious suppers when compared to captaining sports teams or achieving the highest marks.

Candida Nevill, known to the family as Candy, is an ordinary schoolgirl with a habit of daydreaming and coming a very distant fourth to her three successful and confident elder siblings. Candy is content to drift through her schooldays, not even playing team games, and it’s only the start of cooking lessons that show that she can be successful too.

Candy Nevill is due for publication in late November, early December. Advance orders are very welcome via the website.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


Books furnish a room, are something to put on the shelf (spines in rainbow order or not, as you choose), or are stacked neatly in alphabetical order or by Dewey Decimal system. Or, like mine, shelved reasonably neatly wherever I have space with what I want to read regularly close at hand. 

My work involves short-run print publishing in an increasingly digital age. People think I'm doing the equivalent of running a vinyl record press. That may well be true - the only certainty is the number of works on 'digitisation' and 'the death of print medium' will rise. Are paper books to become (again) the preserve of the rich? Or will the rise in e-books persuade print publishers to adapt? Turning the physical pages may yet become obsolete, but a drag of a finger, the idea of turning pages is retained on the even-more expensive ipad? The trade seems a mass of contradictions at present. The one constant is that readers continue to read in a variety of formats.

It's almost a contradiction in itself, but the advances in short-run printing are what allow tiny presses like mine to operate. To stand out from the paperback market, I use a slightly heavier weight of paper - it isn't as soft as that used in many paperbacks, so my books are more durable. The margins are wide so that it's possible to open the book to read without breaking the spine in three places and risking pages becoming unglued from the spine. I'm generous with spacing between the lines too which allows you to read and not see lines of print blur.

My books are, in fact, designed to be read more than once because I think that re-reading is one of life's pleasures. Most of us know some books so well that we almost don't need the texts, but remembering and seeing new tiny details is part of the pleasure. Then again, there's also the pleasure of opening a new book and finding a new favourite.